POLITICS

Jeremy Bird, Top Obama Organizer, Says Only Mulcair Can Beat Harper

09/24/2015 08:05 EDT | Updated 09/24/2016 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA — A top organizer for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is actively working with the NDP — and predicts Canadians will conclude that Leader Tom Mulcair is the only person who can defeat Stephen Harper.

Jeremy Bird was President Obama's national field director in 2012, helping to identify and motivate individual voters at the grassroots level. More recently, he was one of the figures inside the political action committee promoting Clinton as a presidential candidate.

He's now well acquainted with Canadian politics, and speaks with ease about regional support levels, vote splits and party records.

"A lot of what you see from the Conservative policies of the Harper government are a lot like the rhetoric we're hearing from the Republican Party primaries — economic policies to help the rich get richer at the expense of the middle class, a budget that's only balanced on the back of working class families ... denials of climate change," Bird said in an interview from Washington, D.C.

"Fortunately we share democratic values with the NDP, and I think climate change is just one example of that."

Bird spoke to NDP party members at a 2013 NDP convention, and in the intervening years his Chicago-based firm 270 Strategies has advised the party on improving their contact with potential voters. 

Bird, who has come up to Canada a few times since the election began, discounts Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as a credible threat to Harper's hold on power.

"It's a riding by riding election in which the candidates have to make their case at the riding level," said Bird.

"Their strength in Quebec gives them a massive advantage in terms of being the real alternative that can put together enough seats to form government that is not led by Stephen Harper."

The Obama for America campaign became legendary for being able to use data to identify supporters and also other voters who might be persuadable. Digital messages and those delivered in person were tailored to the specific individual — called micro-targeting. Armies of volunteers fanned out across districts to make sure ballots were cast.

But the Conservative Party is good at that sort of campaign too. They've had success at stitching together the right numbers of voters in particular ridings with the right messages, using a well-fed party database.

Bird dismisses this Conservative prowess, saying the tactics are ineffective if the party's record falls flat with voters.

His firm has been helping the New Democrats learn how to pinpoint battleground ridings, and then harness the energy of local volunteers and organizers — including offering them training. Ensuring that a voter's online interactions with the party are meaningful is also key, said Bird.

"What it's really going to come down to is operations on the ground, neighbours talking to neighbours, people talking to people in their riding."

The Conservatives made headlines earlier this month when it was revealed they had been using the services of Australian campaign consultant Lynton Crosby, credited with helping secure victories for John Howard as well as for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"The election in Canada is going to be won based on the strength of the three leaders and their ability to appeal to the majority of Canadians and the strength of their party," said Bird.

"It's not going to be decided based on any outside consultants, whether they be from Australia, England, the United States, etc."

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